Bristol: Brunel, Bridges and Bakeries

Posted by in Culture, Music, Travel

Artwork from Bristol YHA


So far this year I’ve visited Bilbao, Biarritz, Barcelona, Brussels and Barry (blogs on all of those via the atlas) so Bristol more than follows suit and coincidentally it’s a sister city to my former home in Guangzhou (also on the atlas). Unlike the others though, this is a city very well known to me.

Like Cardiff and Newport I’ll be revisiting some old haunts and hopefully discovering what’s new in the land of Brunel, Bridges and Bakeries albeit with a recovering calf muscle, so a little slower than I’m used to.

Back in the day I would get off the bus somewhere on Gloucester Road and this was for one very big reason. Disc N’Tape and Plastic Wax – both good record stores in their day. After a walk through Stokes Croft – scary even in daylight, I’d cruise around Broadmead (Virgin, HMV, Rival) before making my way out to Clifton.

Eventually I learnt you could follow the train track down Zetland Road and into Clifton via Redland – much better as strolling down Park Street is better than climbing it. Redland is one of those places that works even on an overcast day and I could dream what it might be like to live there.

Nothing much would change in terms of accommodation but I’m more accepting of it now. It seems I’m not alone in the generation of accidental renters. A similar feeling caught me in Helsinki but I am the eternal nomad, home is anywhere – in theory anyway.


Later visits included the Arnolfini and Architecture Centre once I’d got past the desire to consume music morning, noon and night. For anoraks some of my Brizzle purchases included…

INXS’s-Shabooh Shoobah *superior Dutch pressing apparently, the first Boom Crash Opera album and several ICEHOUSE rarities. That be the Australian selection. Then, from England, was No-Man’s Flowermix and Wild Opera, Wang Chung’s To Live and Die in LA (and Mosaic), Sylvian/Czukay’s Flux and Mutability as well as David Sylvian‘s Taking the Veil and Orpheus. (Second hand and super cheap at the tail end of the eighties).


Fast forward 30 years and 2018 finds me doing more or less the same journey in reverse which appears to be a specialty of mine. From Brunel’s majestic train station Temple Meads where platform artworks prelude my intended voyage.

First is a fleeting glance at the nearby Temple Quay complex and its swerving Valentine Bridge. Next up via the Hilton’s Double Tree and St Mary Redcliffe church comes the eighteenth century elegance of Queen Square. Following a meandering cultural recap around the harbour city the familiar climb up Park Street commences and it’s here that my state of nostalgic dream time begins.

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Considering it’s been 10 years (more or less) Bristol looks very similar to how I remember it though there have been new additions notably the Radisson Blu which has sprung up from nowhere between Broad Quay and Marsh Street.

Along Narrow Quay the Architecture Centre has a fantastic show on about the cities influential street sign navigation system and the Arnolfini has mercifully seen sense and refurbished its cafe area after murdering it the last time. Personally I still prefer it in vanilla white (as it was back in the day).

Meanwhile @Bristol has been rebranded as the very cool ‘We The Curious’ but then Bristol is cool and as such can charge for the experience! *Speaking of what’s new, there is a new Brunel Museum but I don’t make it this time round.


On Park Street bathers cherry pick the best parts of College Green. Across the way I note the FOPP music store still exists as does the Boston Tea Party (halfway up on the left if you’re heading upstream) and in keeping with the B theme, the beautiful ‘Bird and Blend’ tea shop. Others however have not been so lucky.

The huge Blackwells store at the top end has gone as has the Jamie’s Italian that replaced it. The university and charity stores still take pride of place as I steer left toward Brunel’s famous bridge – remembering it’s further out than some may think. In a matter of moments the geographic riddle is solved and I hobble towards the gorge straddling masterwork and the surrounding downs.


Back in the mainframe of Clifton’s village vibe along Whiteladies Road (it even has its own shopping mall) is the blink and you’ll miss it entrance to the local train station, the line which I follow toward ravishing Redland (still can’t afford to live there but still looking lovely in the spring sun).

It is not for nothing that BS6 and BS8 are among the most affluent areas outside of London. This leafy enclave could be classed as an Victorian English version of Shenzhen’s OCT which regular readers will know I bang on about no end. Or failing that Guangzhou’s Dongshan.

Indeed, if Cotham Gardens and Lovers Walk had its own portable Starbucks (or similar) then a greater likeness – to Shenzhen – may well be unavoidable. Though the residents of Redland Grove may not be so happy about it.

Plastic Wax records in blue and the Chinese store (and right as it was in 1999).


There’s no monorail here though, but there is a conventional railway – the Severn Beach line which having sated my Redland wanderlust (save for Chandos Road and its cheese shop) for who knows how long I continue along the aforementioned Zetland Road toward Montpellier and The Arches; now bound together as Bristol’s Independent District.

The signage might have changed but Plastic Wax remains in the same premises as always, though the vinyl is now a bit more on the pricey side. Close to that is Wong’s Acupuncture Clinic again a little more streamlined and the window view I shot in the late nineties with all its medicines is sadly no longer visible.


To complete nostalgia time my journey ventures into what was the dark and seedy underbelly of urban Bristol – Stokes Croft, the scene of rioting a few years back and all because TESCO wanted a to put a shop there. I disagreed with the actions of the agitated and though I pass the store at the centre of all the hoo-hah, barely notice it.

What I do notice is Colston Girls School (merely as its home time for its inhabitants as I pass the mass of parents and young students) but more so for the building, a complete make over and it doesn’t stop there.


Much of the neighbourhood which filled me with apprehension in the late eighties and early nineties was now vibrant, cosmopolitan and gentrified with folk including families enjoying the weather. Granted it’s a work in progress and there are still some massage parlours around but the area is greatly improved from its foreboding boarded up past.

Stokes Croft is not the only change, approaching middle age with aching legs – I’m proud of the amount of walking (or hobbling) I managed, some 18kms according to my iPhone. I skirt Broadmead back to Temple Meads hoping I am not too late and that rush hour prices and crowds can be averted. Bristol remains a regional powerhouse of cool, so I’m happy I got to see it again.


Thanks for reading here. Should anyone be interested in my work; principally writing, photography, and teaching, please see the MEDIA and UNIVERSITY pages. Meanwhile, stay tuned with Kulture Kiosk via The Atlas or on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram where you can see some of my photos from around the world. Playlist and credits follow…

I Would Die 4 U (single) – Prince
To Look at You (from Shabooh Shoobah) – INXS
Gap That Opened (from Boom Crash Opera) – Boom Crash Opera
Faith in You (from Flowermix) – No-Man
Uniform (double single) – ICEHOUSE
Don’t Be My Enemy (12″ single) – Wang Chung
Hypnotize Me (from Mosaic) – Wang Chung
Flux (from Flux and Mutability) – Sylvian/Czukay
Orpheus (12″ single) – David Sylvian

Picture Credits:
Brunel Bridge retro picture (top left) by Emy Lou Holmes.
Bristol Sky 2 and 3 (top right) by Alison Black.
The rest KH.